Maize genetic diversity has been used to understand the molecular basis of phenotypic variation and to improve agricultural efficiency and sustainability. We crossed 25 diverse inbred maize lines to the B73 reference line, capturing a total of 136,000 recombination events. Variation for recombination frequencies was observed among families, influenced by local (cis) genetic variation. We identified evidence for numerous minor single-locus effects but little two-locus linkage disequilibrium or segregation distortion, which indicated a limited role for genes with large effects and epistatic interactions on fitness. We observed excess residual heterozygosity in pericentromeric regions, which suggested that selection in inbred lines has been less efficient in these regions because of reduced recombination frequency. This implies that pericentromeric regions may contribute disproportionally to heterosis.
Flowering time is a complex trait that controls adaptation of plants to their local environment in the outcrossing species Zea mays (maize). We dissected variation for flowering time with a set of 5000 recombinant inbred lines (maize Nested Association Mapping population, NAM). Nearly a million plants were assayed in eight environments but showed no evidence for any single large-effect quantitative trait loci (QTLs). Instead, we identified evidence for numerous small-effect QTLs shared among families; however, allelic effects differ across founder lines. We identified no individual QTLs at which allelic effects are determined by geographic origin or large effects for epistasis or environmental interactions. Thus, a simple additive model accurately predicts flowering time for maize, in contrast to the genetic architecture observed in the selfing plant species rice and Arabidopsis.
Domestication and plant breeding are ongoing 10,000-year-old evolutionary experiments that have radically altered wild species to meet human needs. Maize has undergone a particularly striking transformation. Researchers have sought for decades to identify the genes underlying maize evolution, but these efforts have been limited in scope. Here, we report a comprehensive assessment of the evolution of modern maize based on the genome-wide resequencing of 75 wild, landrace and improved maize lines. We find evidence of recovery of diversity after domestication, likely introgression from wild relatives, and evidence for stronger selection during domestication than improvement. We identify a number of genes with stronger signals of selection than those previously shown to underlie major morphological changes. Finally, through transcriptome-wide analysis of gene expression, we find evidence both consistent with removal of cis-acting variation during maize domestication and improvement and suggestive of modern breeding having increased dominance in expression while targeting highly expressed genes.
Whereas breeders have exploited diversity in maize for yield improvements, there has been limited progress in using beneficial alleles in undomesticated varieties. Characterizing standing variation in this complex genome has been challenging, with only a small fraction of it described to date. Using a population genetics scoring model, we identified 55 million SNPs in 103 lines across pre-domestication and domesticated Zea mays varieties, including a representative from the sister genus Tripsacum. We find that structural variations are pervasive in the Z. mays genome and are enriched at loci associated with important traits. By investigating the drivers of genome size variation, we find that the larger Tripsacum genome can be explained by transposable element abundance rather than an allopolyploid origin. In contrast, intraspecies genome size variation seems to be controlled by chromosomal knob content. There is tremendous overlap in key gene content in maize and Tripsacum, suggesting that adaptations from Tripsacum (for example, perennialism and frost and drought tolerance) can likely be integrated into maize.
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